Barbie in Vietnam



The territorial dispute in the China Sea puts the screening of the film under threat in Vietnam

On July 3, 2023, Vietnam's state media reported that the film Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig, would not be available for exhibition in the country. The reason for this ban lies in a particular scene that displays a map containing the controversial “line of nine dashes”, a territorial claim by China over the South China Sea region, which is contested by the Vietnamese.

According to Vi Kien Thanh, the head of the local Film Department, the license for the North American release of the film Barbie it was not granted due to the presence of that image considered offensive, the one that portrays the aforementioned line.


Other censored productions

This is not the first time that the map in question has caused controversy in the Southeast Asian country. In the year 2019, the government of Võ Văn Thưởng also banned the animation from being shown. Abominable, by Jill Culton and Karey Kirkpatrick, produced by DreamWorks, under the same argument. In addition, other productions, such as the action film Uncharted, by Ruben Fleischer and the Australian Spy Series Pine Gap, were barred for presenting the said map.

These censorship decisions reflect the political and territorial tensions between Vietnam and China regarding the South China Sea region, making it a sensitive issue for the country, which seeks to preserve its sovereignty and national interests.


The line

The complex origins of territorial disputes in the South China Sea can be traced back to official maps created by the nationalist Kuomintang government before and after World War II, as documented in the book Asia's Cauldron, by Robert D. Kaplan.

After the defeat of the Kuomintang by the communist forces led by Mao Zedong, the Nationalist government took refuge in Taiwan, where it established its headquarters. This situation resulted in the People's Republic of China and Taiwan officially claiming ownership of the South China Sea.

The main source of territorial dispute is related to the Line of Nine Dashes, originally an 11-dash line, which was established with the help of the Chinese geographer Yang Huairen. However, countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia argue that this line exceeds the limits established by the law of the sea and claims a much larger territory than is justifiable.


the claims

China's territorial claims have generated tensions, as they conflict with issues of territorial sovereignty of Southeast Asian states. In this regard, although China bases itself on historical arguments to justify its pretensions, these claims are viewed with concern by neighboring countries, who fear a possible Chinese hegemony in the region.

Consequently, the occupation of islands in the South China Sea and the construction of artificial islands have increased tensions, raising concerns about marine biodiversity and political and diplomatic relations between countries in the region.



Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, which results in sharp conflicts with China. To heat up the “fight”, Taiwan is also looking for historical foundations for its claims on these islands. In the midst of all this, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines rely on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to justify their territorial claims.

More specifically, Taiwan also claims the territory of the Paracel Islands and occupies the largest island in the Spratly archipelago.


Brunei, Malaysia and Philippines

The Sultanate of Brunei claims a small reef in the Spratly Islands, within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Malaysia also claims areas within its EEZ, as well as some islands in the Spratly chain.

The Philippines has a close relationship with the United States, but Washington has not been active in defending the occupied islands in the Spratly Archipelago, which are claimed in their entirety by the Philippine government. In early 2013, the Philippines initiated arbitration proceedings against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, but all decisions were denied by Beijing.


The importance of the region

This region is of great economic importance as a significant percentage of world trade passes through the South China Sea, including energy resources such as natural gas and oil. For this reason, it is known as the “Groat of the Pacific” and is one of the most important trade routes in the world.

In summary, the territorial dispute in the South China Sea is a complex and delicate issue, involving historical arguments, territorial sovereignty, economic interests and political relations between countries in the region. The geopolitical scenario and the strategic importance of the area make these disputes an international concern.



Barbie, a film starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, was originally scheduled to open in Vietnam on July 21, the same date as in the United States, according to the state-run newspaper Tuoi tre. In Brazil, the long-awaited film by Greta Gerwig opened on July 20, the opening day of the equally expected Oppenheimer, by Christopher Nolan.

*Vanderlei Tenorio is a journalist and is studying geography at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL).


ZIETLOW, B; MARTINS, C. Tensions in the South China Sea. RIPE/UFRGS, Porto Alegre. Available in:

FAKHOURY, RMM Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea: Background and Military Actions in the XNUMXst Century. International Conflicts Series, Marília, v. 6, no. 1, p. 1-9, Feb. 2019.

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